MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Much has been made over the past year or so about the evils of collegiate sports, about the dominance of the rich teams in the major sports in the power conferences; of the transfer portal and the NIL that threatens to lessen both the importance of academics and ethics in an American pastime that often tightroped on the edges of both.
It is time we found something or someone to offer another side to that tarnished coin and this weekend, at West Virginia’s graduation ceremony of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, an example of just what we have been looking for will step forward to receive their degrees.
Their names are Ashley and Nicole Dibling from Perrysville, Ohio, heretofore famous for being the hometown of former Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager Jim Leyland, whose name the town’s Little League field bears.
Now Ashley and Nicole, or Nicole and Ashley, if you prefer, for they are identical twins, are WVU athletes, though they compete in the least covered of all the sports on the Mountaineer menu — rowing.
But if they operate in obscurity as athletes, to the university they are the gold standard of what they are looking for and have been honored by the WVU Foundation as Outstanding Seniors, an award established to honor the school’s most distinguished graduating seniors, an award for not only academics and athletics but for community service and participation in school events.
Both carry 3.9 GPAs in mechanical engineering, something that carries a quick story with it.
“We got the pressure off our shoulders for the 4.0 early because all engineering students have to take chemistry,” Ashley said. “We took Chem 115 our freshman year and both got Bs in it. It took the pressure of 4.0 off right at the start, so I’m kind of glad that happened.”
One B in four years. Very similar to a lot of people’s collegiate academic records, until you realize the Diblings earned an A in every other class.
But, as noted, this is not just academic achievement that is being celebrated and that is what makes it important to the twins.
“One of the reasons we’re kind of proud of it is because it’s not just an academic award,” Ashley said. “It kind of sums up your entire career and time at WVU. It’s academics, leadership, service, work experience as well as some letters of reference. It lets me know I made the most of my time here.”
“It was cool to kind of know that all the effort I had put in the last four years was noticed by other people,” Nicole added.
Their journey has been an interesting one, beginning with their decision to choose mechanical engineering as their major, rowing as their sport and WVU as their school.
Nicole said it was their brother, Matthew, four years older, who got them into mechanical engineering.
“He didn’t go to WVU. He went to Evansville. As we were getting into school, he was doing mechanical engineering in college. We figured out we liked it as well,” she said.
What was it about mechanical engineering that drew them in?
“I like engineering just because of the problem-solving side of things,” Ashley said. “I like analyzing situations. Understanding how things work was something mechanical engineering teaches you a lot. You learn how to look at something, how to approach problems and how to solve them.”
“Since I was little, I loved aviation. I actually came here thinking I was going to go into aerospace engineering, but I figured out I like figuring out what was going on inside of engines and things like that,” said Nicole.
So, it was mechanical engineering for them, but now that they are done with college they’re going off in different directions in the field.
“We had internships in different locations each summer, so it won’t be the first time we will be apart. But this is a more permanent situation,” Nicole said.
“People always think we’re doing the exact same things, but our jobs and internships could not be further apart in terms of what mechanical engineering is and what it does. It’s different industries we’re going into and different job roles as well.”
Ashley will work with Nalco Water in the Great Lakes region after graduation while Nicole has accepted a job with GE Aviation as part of its Operations Management Leadership Program.
As for why they chose WVU, well, it’s kind of a story you’ve heard before, the kind of story the school and the town are proud of.
“The environment in Morgantown was important,” Ashley said. “We toured a lot of schools and no school really came close to the feel Morgantown has. The community spirit … it’s cliche, but people always say Morgantown becomes your home and after four years here it definitely lived up that expectation. I couldn’t have picked a better college.”
“Going on our official visit here you kind of got a sense that West Virginia and Morgantown was such a special place,” Nicole said. “The pride everyone in the state has is something I had never experienced before. I think one of the most insane things is that anywhere you go wearing the Flying WV people will stop and talk to you and say ‘Let’s Go Mountaineers.’ I think that’s very unique to the school and something I’m glad I experienced.”
As for becoming rowers, that came out of nowhere.
“Our high school did not have a rowing program but Toledo had a club for all the high schools that did not have a rowing program and our older brother got involved with it. When we were in junior high school, we went to all his races and watched him row,” Nicole said. “We got involved in the spring of our eighth-grade year and never stopped.”
By the time they were in high school, the school had adopted rowing as a varsity sport.
Rowing is a sport that requires a lot of hard work without the glory that comes with appearing before large crowds, being televised or dominating headlines or television news reports.
So what is it like to be a rower?
“Rowing is a cardio-based sport. I’d compare it to swimming or cross country or track and field. We practiced 20 hours a week, but most of it is getting training volume in,” Ashley said. “During the winter we can’t get on the water, so we use ergs to get our work in. During the summer there’s a lot of running and ergs involved because we can’t get in boats. During our main seasons, the spring and fall, we’re out on the Mon every single day practicing in boats. That’s where the technical side of the sport comes into play.
“When you’re in a boat, you have to make sure your stroke is efficient and technically clean and trying to match up with everyone else in your boat. That’s why some people say rowing is the ultimate team sport, because if you are off from someone else, everything falls apart.”
Academics and athletics have been just a part of it, though.
“Time management is the main factor when you are getting involved in things,” Ashley said. “I got involved in things because I knew from the start I didn’t want just to go to class. I wanted to be involved. A lot of what I got involved with just fell into place.”
The Diblings also joined many engineering clubs and organizations, including being part of the WVU Formula Car team. Ashley was a member of the Student Government Association and the Society of Women Engineers while Nicole was a member of the Honors College and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning engineers.,
But the best of times were spent out on the Mon.
“It’s really cool,” Nicole said. “You’re in the mountains, it’s scenic and that’s a very cool aspect of it here.”